Saturday, January 29, 2011

Curtis Granderson Versus Shane Victorino Versus Alex Rios

Playing centerfield is a glamour position in Major League Baseball. When you think of the position, you think Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and all the other great players that have played there. It is a position that requires speed, range, instincts and a little bat would be good when thrown in. Teams don't generally look for a slugger for centerfield. Those are reserved for the corner outfield spot. When these "rules" came about on the kind of hitter a certain player position should be, who knows. But centerfield is rarely manned by a slugger. It's the speed guys like Kenny Lofton, Willie Wilson, Mickey Rivers and the like that play there. They lead off in the batting order and steal bases. But as Mantle and Mays proved, you could bop too and still play the position. Mr. Hamilton in Texas did that in 2010 too.

It may surprise you to know that according to Fangraphs, the top two guys in value over the last five years (playing center) are Carlos Beltran and Grady Sizemore. That those two are still on top after missing significant time to injuries in the past year or two, either speaks to how good they were/are, or it speaks to how few valuable centerfielders there are in the game. It may or may not surprise you that right behind those two players is Curtis Granderson followed by Alex Rios and Shane Victorino. In fact, this piece probably started out to figure out who was the better player, Granderson or Victorino. But that wouldn't be right without including Rios as he is right between them in value for the last five years.

Among the five players we've mentioned, Granderson and Beltran are tied for the most homers with 118. Sizemore has 104, Rios has 94 and Victorino has 60. And while power certainly helps, we need to look at the bigger picture when comparing the players. Taking Sizemore and Beltran out of the picture (though it is hoped that both return in a big way in 2011), let's take a deeper look into the three remaining centerfielders.

Let's start with defense. According to Fangraphs, Rios has the honors here. His defense is rated off the charts. It's weird, not having watched Rios play very often, you can't picture him as a great fielder. And for the first couple of years of this sample, he didn't even play center as he played with Vernon Wells in Toronto. Who would have thought that Rios would be the best fielding centerfielder of this era. Victorino comes in second behind him but the gulf is wider between Rios and Victorino than it is with Victorino and Granderson. The bottom line here is that all of our guys are great fielders who help their teams defensively as well as offensively.

When it comes to offense, it's closer than you think. Let's start with Weighted On Base Average or wOBA as it is called. Granderson comes out on top at .358 over the last five years. Victorino and Rios come in together in a dead heat at .347. Would you have guessed that? The Fan wouldn't have. Granderson walks more than the other two, but he also strikes out more. Victorino steals more bases, but not much more than Rios (another surprise), while Granderson lags behind them a bit.

Granderson had a good second half in 2010. He seems to have learned to hit lefties with Kevin Long as his coach. Victorino had a bad year in 2010. Rios had a great first half but faltered in the second. There are some good young centerfielders coming in the game like Austin Jackson and Andrew McCutchen. But for the last five years, Granderson comes out on top in the value race between he and Rios and Victorino. We'll see this year if Sizemore can get back to being one of the best in the business and it remains to be seen if Beltran has anything left in the tank or if he'll even play centerfield for the Mets in 2011.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Curt Schilling And Other Thoughts: 250K 50 walks

Ever since speculation about the Hall of Fame vote started in December, Curt Schilling has been rolling around this roundish, long-haired head. Of course Schilling wasn't on the ballot this year, but his name came up a lot in posts concerning future ballots. Schilling has been in the craw since then and it probably has to do with not liking the guy. And that probably isn't fair either. The Fan doesn't even know Curt Schilling. But feelings are what feelings are. And as such, some day in the next couple of years, the Fan will have to write a post that says Curt Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ugh. It rotted to have to type that. But it's true. Schilling should get lots of support.

Yeah, Schilling only won 216 games. Even Jack Morris has him there. But Schilling took a while to get going. And once he did, he was a powerhouse. He finished with over 3100 strikeouts. He had 83 complete games and 20 shutouts and threw in 22 saves for good measure. He averaged 8.6 K/9 for his career! And as impressive as that is, he allowed only 2.0 walks per nine innings for a career strikeout to walk ratio of 4.38. Man, that's impressive. His winning percentage of .597 is impressive too. And in case anyone forgets, Schilling went 11-2 in the post season with a 2.23 ERA. Along the way he helped Arizona and Boston win franchise changing World Series titles. But there is one stat the Fan absolutely loves.

Since 1901, only six pitchers have struck out more than 250 batters in a season and yet finished that season with less than 40 walks. Only two guys did it twice: Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. We're going to talk about this stat a little more in a different context in just a minute. But for now, let's rest on the amazingness of it. Both Pedro and Schilling pulled this feat in back to back seasons. One time they were both over 300 strikeouts and still did it. The second time, they were both over 290 strikeouts. People think what Cliff Lee did in 2010 was pretty amazing. Well, it was amazing, but it was no where near as close to what Pedro and Schilling did in those four seasons between them. Just to close the loop on the thought, the list of six pitchers are: Schilling (2), Pedro (2), Ben Sheets (really? Yup), Ferguson Jenkins. That's it.

While searching for the statistic, the Fan started with a criteria of 250 strikeouts in a season with 50 walks or less. There were nine guys that did that including the list of six above. The other three were Randy Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Kevin Brown. The only two over 300 strikeouts were Pedro and Curt Schilling.

But that list brings up another thought. Between 1901 and 1971, only two pitchers had ever struck out more than 250 and walked less than 50. From 1998 to 2004, it was done seven times--once in 1998 (Brown), once in 1999 (Pedro), once in 2000 (Pedro), once in 2001 (Schilling), once in 2002 (Schilling) and twice in 2004 (Johnson and Sheets). Why would something happen seven times in six years that had only been done twice in the 97 years prior to 1998?

Uh oh. The Fan is going to say it. Was this a smoking gun of the pitching end of the era's equation? The Fan doesn't know. A fluke? Just a confluence of some of the nastiest and stingiest pitchers that ever lived? Don't know. It's simply weird that this feat happened so many times in so short a period of time when it had been done only twice before in pitching history (And Mathewson had to pitch 390 innings to get there). There. The Fan has given the saber folks something to work on for a pet project.

Whatever the reason, it's still an amazing statistic and it just adds to the Schilling case for the Hall of Fame. You'll never know how hard that is to type.

Imagining Cashman's Conversation with Casey Close

There were some reports yesterday that Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, called Casey Close, Derek Jeter's agent, to talk about comments Cashman made at a recent function concerning Derek Jeter eventually moving to the outfield. The comments, tweeted live by Amanda Rycoff of espnW caused a firestorm as only a story about Derek Jeter can create. Cashman probably decided that he had to explain himself to the shortstop, so Cashman called Jeter's agent. Since none of us are privy to such a conversation, we can only imagine how it went. The following is this writer's imagination on how that call might have gone.

  • Close: Hello?
  • Cashman: Hey, Casey, how's it going?
  • Close: Oh, it's you. Nice going.
  • Cashman:
  • Close: Nah, he's known you are just telling people what they want to hear.
  • Cashman: Really? He knows that?
  • Close: Ah, not only do you put your foot in your mouth, you're gullible too. Of COURSE he's mad.
  • Cashman: I was afraid of that. What did he say?
  • Close: He's wondering why you keep talking to the media about him like you have all winter.
  • Cashman: Well, he's been a story. I've got to talk to the reporters about it.
  • Close: All he wants to know is why you don't talk to him first, that's all.
  • Cashman: Point taken.
  • Close: You haven't had a good winter. You've been hanging around those Steinbrenners too long.
  • Cashman: Hey, nothing I've said hasn't been the truth.
  • Close: Well, we can debate that, but why do you have to talk to the creeps in the media?
  • Cashman: Hey! You use those guys too. I know how you agents are.
  • Close: Moi?
  • Cashman: Well, tell Jeter I called and explained.
  • Close: You didn't explain anything.
  • Cashman: Oh..ahh...I was just talking. You know. It was a function. Didn't think it would become such a big deal.
  • Close: You've just been talking all winter, haven't you? What's up with that? You had to state at the Soriano news conference the signing not being your idea? You trying to test those guys?
  • Cashman: The media said I lied. I didn't want them to think I was lying. I talked to Levine and them about it first.
  • Close: Well, at least you showed up, didn't think you would.
  • Cashman: That's my job.
  • Close: Yeah, you also called writers everywhere, who questioned your handling of Joba, stupid. Another good move.
  • Cashman: Those butt wipes. Who do they think they are writing that kind of crap?
  • Close: Only the butt wipes that keep up interest in your team, Brian. Why you biting the hand that feeds you?
  • Cashman: Oh yeah. Good point. I'll have to soften that.
  • Close: I have some Correctol in the cabinet if you want it.
  • Cashman: Bite me.
  • Close: And what's the deal with Joba anyway? Don't want to look like you don't know what you're doing?
  • Cashman: Stick to being an agent and I'll run the baseball operations, okay?
  • Close: It's your deal. Hey, you know the Captain isn't real happy about having to think about anyone named Soriano again.
  • Cashman: Ha! That's a good one. So tell the big guy we're cool okay? He's our shortstop.
  • Close: Yeah, I'll tell him. He's going to prove you all wrong and make you look like twerps, you know.
  • Cashman: Well, if he does, we all win, so I hope he does.
  • Close: You hope he does until the year before his contract is up, you mean.
  • Cashman: Don't start with me. It wasn't me that had a crappy year.
  • Close: I'll tell him that too.
  • Cashman: CASEY! That's just between you and me. Don't make things worse.
  • Close: No, I'll leave that to you. You're on a roll.
  • Cashman: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, tell Jeter I'll talk to him soon.
  • Close: Gotcha. Take it easy. Give Levine a kiss for me.
  • Cashman: Bite me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't Cry for the Tampa Bay Rays

There have been some serious writers who have indicated that the Tampa Bay Rays will fall off this year and be the third best team in the American League East. That's an oversimplification. Boston has improved but hasn't played a game with their new people yet. Their rotation, like the Yankees' rotation has just as many question marks. Meanwhile, the Rays lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. The latter isn't much of a loss if 2010 is the kind of player he is now. Yeah, the bullpen has taken a hit. But remember this, the Bay Rays have won the AL East two of the last three years. There seems to be little reason why they can't win 92 to 95 games in 2011.

There is plenty of reason for optimism in 2011 for the Bay Rays. First, they still have one of the best managers and general managers in baseball. Reid Brignac will be an improvement at short over the departed Bartlett. Matt Joyce came into his own in the latter half of 2010 and was a real threat in the post season. There is no reason why he can't replace the WAR lost by losing Crawford. Guys like Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez and John Jaso will have another year of experience under their belt. Upton will have a bounce back year (The Fan predicts this and just watch). Longoria is still one of the best players on the planet and no matter what happens, they will have a better DH than they've had in any time in their history.

Obviously, Maddon is a lot smarter than this writer, but if the Fan was running the Bay Rays, this is the line up the Fan would use to start the season:

1. CF B. J. Upton
2. LF Johnny Damon
3. 3B Evan Longoria
4. DH Manny Ramirez
5. RF Matt Joyce
6. 1B Ben Zobrist
7. 2B Sean Rodriguez
8. SS Reid Brignac
9. C John Jaso

That's a very functional line up. Rodriguez needs to bring his offense up a few notches from last year. Damon isn't a good fielder any more, but he can hold his own with Upton helping him out a lot. And the best part of this line up is that all, with the exception of Damon and Jaso stack up positively on defense.

You'll notice that the Fan has started Damon over Desmond Jennings. Jennings had a brief cup of coffee last year and didn't show much. Jennings has played two full years at Triple A and there is no benefit to having him play a third. He should start the season with the team, start against left handers (two or three times a week) and come in to play defense in all other games after the seventh. That seems to be a good way to get his feet wetter. If Jennings gets hot, then you can figure out how to get both him and Damon in the line up regularly.

The Fan also prefers Zobrist over Dan Johnson. Johnson has scary power and good patience at the plate, but he's never hit for average and isn't a good fielder. Johnson can get some starts against right-handed pitching and move Zobrist over to second base to give Rodriguez a game off a few times a week. The Fan is excited to see Brignac get a full chance at short and would love to just see the Bay Rays put him there and leave him alone for 160 games.

The hallmark of the Bay Rays has always been flexibility. They are the Patriots of baseball. Everyone can play everywhere. This certainly gives Maddon options every day and if someone gets hurt. There were stretches last year where the Bay Rays didn't hit very well. The Fan believes they will be a better offensive club in 2011, not good news for the other powers in the AL East.

The Bay Rays have two question marks in their rotation: Shields and Niemann. Shields had an awful year in 2010, but has held his own in previous years. He should be okay, which is all you need from a fifth starter. Niemann started great last year, got hurt and then really struggled. The latter part of his year puts him in the "Uh oh" category for the start of 2011. He's a big, ornery pitcher who loves to compete. This Fan feels he'll bounce back. Price, Hellickson and Wade Davis should be rock solid and give their team a chance to win every time out. The Bay Rays have no apologies to make for their rotation.

Maddon will have to work out his bullpen, but that's the easiest equation in baseball. So the Fan isn't going to give a second thought there. After working this all out and thinking about it, the Fan sees little weakness in the Bay Rays and little reason to think there will be much of a decline. They have improved at short, DH, right field and first base. From those improvements, there is no reason why the Rays can't make up for the lost WAR of Crawford and Pena. Don't underestimate this team. They seem just as good as last year. And they won 97 games last year.

Clayton Kershaw Versus Tommy Hanson

A while back, there was some positive response to a post in this space comparing Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria. Most think Longoria is better, but this writer's conclusion is a wash. Today, let's compare two highly touted, yet almost anonymous young starters, both of whom get little press and less fanfare. When thinking about why so little is written about Tommy Hanson and Clayton Kershaw, the lingering feeling is that neither has had a spectacular game or a series of spectacular games. Neither has racked up significant won/loss records. But make no mistake about it, these two pitchers are among the best and brightest in the land. But which one is better? The Fan will post, you decide.

First the traditional stats:

Age - Kershaw is only 22! Hanson is 24
Dimensions - Hanson is 6'6" and weighs 220. Kershaw is 6'3" and weighs 217.
Record - Kershaw: 26-23 in 85 appearances. Hanson: 21-15 in 55 appearances
ERA - Kershaw: 3.17. Hanson: 3.16  Wow, that's close.
Each have thrown one complete game.

Now for some more detailed stats:

WHIP - Hanson: 1.18. Kershaw: 1.27
K/9 - Kershaw: 9.26. Hanson: 7.87
BB/9 - Hanson: 2.78. Kershaw: 4.17
K/BB - Hanson: 2.83. Kershaw: 2.20
Hits/9 - Kershaw: 7.23. Hanson: 7.81
HR/9 - Kershaw: 0.58. Hanson: 0.65
Innings per start (2010 only) - Hanson: 5.96. Kershaw: 6.38  Bet this one surprised you.
xFIP - Kershaw 3.87. Hanson: 4.03
WAR (2010) - Hanson: 4.3, Kershaw: 4.8

Let's look at some batted ball stats and pitch values:

Line Drive Percentage - Kershaw: 18.9 percent. Hanson: 17.2 percent.
Hanson gives up an equal number of fly balls to ground balls. Kershaw throws two percent more ground balls than fly balls.
Fastball (2010 only) - Kershaw: 16.9. Hanson: 15.8
Slider (2010 only) - Hanson: 11.5. Kershaw: 18.1
Curve (2010 only) - Kershaw: -1.9. Hanson: -1.2
Change (2010 only) - Hanson: 0.6. Kershaw: -1.3
Total value of all pitches in 2010: Kershaw: 31.8. Hanson: 26.7
WPA (2010) - Kershaw: 3.25, Hanson: 0.77

Other stuff: Kershaw has made one error in the last two years, Hanson has made five. Hanson has a lifetime batting average of .081 and Kershaw's is .078. Let's say that their batting equally sucks.

Toe be sure, there is probably a lot more you can look at when comparing these two pitchers. Kershaw's age gives him a two year advantage on Hanson but Kershaw's actually gotten more service time in the majors. Both are terrific and deserve more love from the mainstream press. Not sure why neither gets a lot of wins in their starts, but perhaps that will change in 2011. No matter who you decide is better, the Fan wouldn't cry to have either one of them on his team.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wrestling With Roy White

Part of what makes baseball such a unique experience is the nostalgia that a lifetime of watching the game brings. This site has featured many memories of days gone by. The past isn't as important as the present, but it's still a nice place to visit. This bit of nostalgia revisits Roy White. White's career spanned the CBS to Steinbrenner years and the awful years to the glory years of 77 and 78 for the Yankees. He played his entire career and was for a long time, an institution in New York. Despite him being a focal point of the team the Fan grew up watching, White was never a Fan favorite. His game sort of left this writer cold. Why is that?

Well, White never hit .300. He never drove in 100 runs. He never had 200 hits despite playing every game for several seasons. He never hit more than 22 homers. He stole 232 bases in his career, but was thrown out a third of the time he attempted to steal. Probably the deal for the Fan was that he was solid, but never spectacular. And yet, for many years, he was considered the star of the Yankees. He only made two All Star teams and only cracked the top 15 in MVP voting once. And yet, the noted Bill James loves this guy. Why?

Well, he walked a LOT. He averaged 80 walks per 162 games. What makes that more impressive is that he only struck out 61 times per 162 games. He played good defense in left field (lousy in center) and finished with 4.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for his defense in his career. That's saying something. The dWAR added to his oWAR gave him a career WAR of 44.5. That's a pretty darn good career when considering that he only played fourteen full seasons. So why does the Fan have such negative feelings about him?

Well, Roy White wasn't fuzzy. His typical countenance was impassive. He never pumped his fist. The Fan can't ever remember him smiling. Watching Roy White play baseball was a joyless experience. He was, by his carriage, a proud man. We as fans could read that. There is nothing wrong with that. But the pride wasn't offset with anything that you could embrace.

Plus, he was one of the better players on some really, really bad teams. That's sort of like being a town politician when the town has 800 people. You may think you're a big shot, but after all, it's still just Perham, Maine. But the numbers don't lie. With his walks, his lack of strikeouts and his fielding stats, Roy White was a very good player and the body of his work merits a call to the Hall of Very Good.

Oh! For those of you who have no idea who the Fan is talking about, Roy White played left field (mainly) for the Yankees from 1965 to 1979. He wore Number 6 (the Fan thinks!). He was born in Los Angeles in 1943. He is known for two big things: First, he was on base when Bucky Dent hit the most famous home run of his career. Second, he hit an insane number of sacrifice flies. In 1971, White led the league with 17 of them. They made up 20 percent of White's 84 RBIs that year.

White was a slight guy at only 5'10'' and all of 160 pounds. But he seemed well muscled. The ladies would have liked his butt. After his career, White all but disappeared from the Yankee universe. This Fan reads a lot of Yankee-based blogs, but never reads anything about Roy White.

Okay, the Fan has been wrestling with Roy White for about a thousand words now and can't get any closer to feeling anything. He was a giant part of the Fan's childhood as he was there on the Fan's telly for 15 years. And Bill James and White's numbers show that he was a very good ball player. But the Fan's overall feelings for the guy haven't changed after all these years. The thought of him still leads to the same shrug. Meh.

Contemplating the Phillies Line Up and Jimmy Rollins

There was a real nice piece today in the Philadelphia Inquirer's The Phillies Zone on Charlie Manuel speaking about his contract and some of his players. Manuel gets a bit lost in the shuffle when it comes to discussions on good managers. You can't argue with Manuel's success nor with the way he seems to be the most beloved manager since Joe Torre. But Manuel is no different than a lot of managers who develop soft spots for some of their players. Torre had an absolute man crush on Jeff Weaver and Miguel Cairo. LaRussa loves himself some Schumaker and Gardenhire was sweet on Nick Punto for years. It's human nature and it happens.

Manuel has a soft spot for Jimmy Rollins. And, this Fan might point out, Manuel's soft spot has some good reasons. Rollins was the epicenter of the team in those years where they caught the Mets from behind and won the division. Rollins' 2007 season was a wondrous adventure that featured 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 139 runs scored, 94 RBIs from the lead off spot and 41 stolen bases in just 47 attempts. His MVP Award is open for debate for some, but not in this corner. He WAS the Phillies that year and he was remarkable.

But he really hasn't been remarkable since. His batting was just above league average in 2008 and well below in 2009 and 2010. How can you have a lead off batter with OBPs of .298 and .320 over the last two years? You can't. You can't also overlook the fact that Rollins has a career OPS+ of 97. Would you have guessed that? No, neither would this observer. But looking at his career, 2007 has to be considered an outlier, a career year. He didn't come close to the same stats in the years before or the years since. Would you also guess that his career OBP is .328? And yet, Manuel says that he thinks of Rollins as a lead off guy.
It's pretty harsh to say this, but if Rollins is your lead off guy, then you are not doing much better than putting Juan Pierre up there at lead off (Pierre had a higher OBP last year too).

Don't get the Fan wrong. Jimmy Rollins still has a lot of value as a terrific fielding shortstop and team leader. He's just got to sink to seventh in the batting order, that's all. Of course, Rollins could come out of the gate in 2011 and make the Fan look like an idiot. For Manuel's sake and for Phillies fans, that wouldn't be unwelcome. It's just expected.

The trouble with the Phillies as they are currently constructed is that they really don't have anyone who could replace Rollins in the top spot. Shane Victorino had a very pedestrian season in 2010 (and was hugely disappointing). The team's best on base guy last year was Carlos Ruis. But with Jaso leading off for the Bay Rays, maybe catchers leading off is the new flavor of the month.

Elsewhere in the line up, the Phillies have to hope for better things from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. They both had OPS+ seasons over 120, but their standards are higher than that. If they can both get back to their career norms, that would be a good thing. Raul Ibanez surprised with another solid year for the Phillies in 2010. But like the Padres of 2010, you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Plus, he's not a good fielder at this stage of his career. There are two guys you have to consider for this season. Dominic Brown is already slated to take over for Jayson Werth. But the Fan would give that spot to John Mayberry, who deserves a full time shot. Brown would be the left fielder. Have you seen Brown's defensive numbers in right? Not pretty. Plus, the kid struggled at the plate.

The other trouble with Brown taking over for Werth is that he bats left handed. That would leave a line up with Brown, Utley, Howard and Ibanez all batting from the left side. If Brown can fulfill his promise and take over for Ibanez, then you just replace a lefty with a lefty and the right-handed hitting Mayberry hits from the right to take over for Werth. Ibanez can be the fourth outfielder.

This Fan is also not a big fan of Placido Polanco. Polanco is in this writer's mind, a back up infielder filling in at short, second and third and getting 300 at bats. He wears down as a full-time player and 2010 left him below league average in OPS+. But it looks like the Phillies are stuck with Polanco in that role for the 2011 season.

Let's face it, the Phillies don't have to hit that much to support that pitching staff. We all know that. But they have to score enough runs too. The Phillies have a lot of question marks offensively heading into the 2011 season. Can Utley, Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Polanco bounce back after down seasons? Are the Phillies really going to stick with Ibanez? Will Brown hit? Can Ruiz continue to hit that well? Can the Phillies survive with their two top lead off options getting on base only 32 percent of the time? Like the Fan said, Manuel is a great manager. He'll figure it out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Remembering Jerry Koosman

An email this morning from Steve Keane let this writer know that Jerry Koosman will be Steve's guest tonight on his This Call to the Bullpen show on Blog Talk Radio. The email brought back really good memories of one of the really good left-handed pitchers in the past 30 years. Growing up in New Jersey, the Mets were definitely not one of the favorite teams, but Koosman transcended those feelings because he was such a classy pitcher and so much fun to watch. Seaver gets all the glory (and deservedly so) and Nolan Ryan is the more famous half of that famous Topps Rookie card. But Koosman was great and often a star and always overlooked.

How overlooked? Consider that he won twenty or more games twice and won nineteen another time and yet made only two All Star Games. Consider that he got jobbed in the 1968 season for Rookie of the Year despite a 19-12 record with a 2.08 ERA. The guy who won the award that year was some guy named Johnny Bench. But Koosman had a much higher WAR and should have won. He also lost a close Cy Young Award race to Randy Jones (of the Padres) in 1976 when Koosman finished with a 21-10 record with a 2.69 ERA. His peripherals were all better than Jones, but Jones won one more game and pitched a lot more innings (Jones made an incredible 40 starts that season).

Consider also that Koosman went 4-0 in post season games, including 3-0 in the World Series. He won two games in the amazing and stunning Mets' upset of the powerful Baltimore Orioles in 1969.

Jerry Koosman won 222 games in his career with a 3.36 ERA. He accumulated 58.8 Wins Above Replacement for his career. He pitched until age 42 and even made 34 starts at the age of 41 and still put up a 3.25 ERA for the Phillies that season. Koosman compiled 33 shutouts in 140 career complete games and even contributed 17 saves. Jerry Koosman was very, very good.

Oh, and that rookie card? Those two pitchers combined for 46 seasons, 546 wins and 7650 strikeouts. That's probably got to be the most productive rookie card ever. The card is shown below and is linked to its source. Listen to the radio show tonight as Koosman is a guy that deserves more credit for his career than he's received.

Jason Hammel - Better Than His Record

Jason Hammel was just rewarded for some of his service time with a two year $7.7 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Hammel didn't impress with his won/loss record or his ERA (10-9 and 4.81 respectively). But if you look beyond those things, he's a good pitcher who just needs a little more luck to shine.

Hammel is mostly a ground ball pitcher whose batted balls end up as grounders nearly 47 percent as apposed to his fly ball rate of 33 percent. His line drive rate has always been too high and 2010 was no different with it again being over 20 percent. The luck comes in with his batting average with balls in play (BABIP) of .328, his second year in a row with nearly the same BABIP. So perhaps you have to wonder if that is the norm for him.

But there were several things that made him better than he seemed. First, his strikeout rate per nine innings continues to rise. His 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings was the best of his career. Plus, there was an important increase in the percentage of time batters swung at pitches out of the strike zone. That means that Hammel is getting better at making his pitch and making the batter swing at his pitch. His homer rate is pretty low considering that he pitches half his games in Coors Field. In fact, it's pretty darned impressive that his home/road splits are so similar. There is no big spike at home other than he gave up eleven homers at home compared to seven on the road.

While Hammel's strikeout rate rose, his walk rate was again pretty good which meant that he had his second straight season with a three to one strikeout to walk ratio. That's good. All of these things combined lead up to Hammel as having a fielding independent pitching (FIP) ERA of 3.70 and an xFIP of 3.81, a full run per nine innings better than his actual ERA. If all things were equal and Hammel got a little luck, he would be a fifteen game winner and not a pitcher with a 11-9 record.

The one thing the Fan doesn't like is his paltry average of 5.7 innings per start. He needs to last longer in the game. Part of that is the National League, of course, with the need of pinch hitting for the pitcher. But Hammel can do better to go longer in each game with more consistent performances.

Hammels relies a lot on his fastball, which he throws nearly 61 percent of the time. And according to Fangraphs, it's not his best pitch. Looking at pitch values, his slider is terrific, his curve good (but it was rated great in 2009) and his change up a bit weak. It makes sense for him to use his fastball to set up his better pitches. Still, that's four pitches in his arsenal which is good.

Hammel is a lot better than most people think. He seems to be one of the few mistakes made by the Tampa Bay Rays in recent years as the guy the Rays got, Aneury Rodriguez, is still in the minors. But Rodriguez is still putting up pretty good numbers in the minors, so he still might pan out (to be fair). Hammel is a solid starter for the Rockies. He's not one of the best pitchers in the league, but most rotations need a guy like Hammel who effectively gives his team a chance to win. He is definitely worth the money the Rockies have invested in him.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Galarraga A Mild Gamble For the Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired a starting pitcher, Armando Galarraga, today for two fringe prospects. That by itself, in this age where starting pitching is at a premium, is a good deal. But Galarraga is a mild gamble for the Diamondbacks as the pitcher has some ability and should at the very least be an upgrade over Rodrigo Lopez of a year ago. What isn't sure is if this is a good deal for Galarraga.

The Fan already profiled Galarraga this month, so you'll have to look that up instead of having it rehashed again here. But one point to make here right off the bat is that Arizona is a nice place to hit homers. As a staff last year, the D-Backs issued 1.3 homers per nine innings. Galarraga has problems with the long ball already in his career. So that's a bit scary for the pitcher and the team. Galarraga allowed 1.3 homers per nine innings in 2010, which was his best showing of his career. That's the bad news. The good news is that his homer to fly ball ratio was the lowest of his career. Galarraga is certainly a fly ball pitcher, which, again, is a bit scary since the D-Backs really need to do better at keeping the ball in the park.

The other thing that is a concern was Galarraga's plummet with his K/9 rate. He finished 2010 with a 4.61 rate, which is well below his career average. The strikeouts were there in his Triple A showings in 2010, so perhaps his majors rate was a one year fluke.

So where does Galarraga fit with the Diamondbacks? Daniel Hudson emerged as a really good starter last year, so the D-Backs are counting on good things there. So that's one spot. There is Ian Kennedy, who finally showed his promise in 2010. It was an up and down kind of year for Kennedy, but the peripherals are very good and so he comes in at number two. Joe Saunders is probably number three though he hasn't pitched well since 2008. Saunders lost seven of his ten decisions with the Diamondbacks after he was traded there in the Haren deal. But he did up his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate with the NL team. But he's not someone the Fan would count on.

Galarraga probably slots in at number four. His competition would be Aaron Heilman, who desperately wants to be a starter (though his relief pitching hasn't been good, so would you want to do that?). The Fan remembers reading somewhere that Heilman was promised a shot at the rotation. Okay, give him a few Spring Training starts and then send him back to the bullpen. The other rotation hopeful is Barry Enright, who did little right in his 2010 season. Well, yeah, he did have a 109 ERA+, but this is one of those times when the ERA+ is misleading. Enright only struck out 4.5 batters per nine and his homer rate was an atrocious 1.8 big knocks per nine.

Enright's strikeout rates were better in Triple A and the pitcher is only 24 years old. Since he was a second round draft pick who had minor league success, you've got to give him another year to see if he can be better. That being the case, the D-Backs' rotation probably looks like: Hudson, Kennedy, Saunders, Galarraga and Enright. That could work out somewhat or it could really end up looking terrible. Kennedy has had injury issues over his career, nobody knows if Hudson was a fluke and Saunders hasn't been good for a long time.

Galarraga is just one more question mark. The upside is he will be only 29 in 2011 and he had success a few years ago. Last year's record looked bad, but it was actually a sign of improvement for the pitcher. And, he could thrive making the switch to the National League. But he is iffy, just like a lot of the rotation. But, to put the best spin on this as possible, the Diamondbacks got a big league starter for almost no cost so it's not much of a risk. It is a gamble, but ultimately one worth taking.

Who Gets the At Bats for the Twins?

Jim Thome's season in 2010 was remarkable. And now he is back for the 2011 season with a slightly larger paycheck. But how many at bats will he accumulate? The thing forgotten in the post-Thome-re-signing euphoria is that Thome would not have had that remarkable season if Justin Morneau hadn't missed half the season with concussion syndrome. All indications are that Morneau will be back at first base for the Twins.

Putting Morneau back at first pushes Michael Cuddyer back to the outfield. Cuddyer back to the outfield pushes Kubel out of the line up or back to the DH where he was in 2009. But Kubel is a left-hand hitting slugger, which is what Thome is, right? So who gets the at bats at DH, Kubel or Thome?

Kubel didn't have a good year in 2010. He finished at league average in OPS+ and was terrible in the outfield. But Kubel was a good slugger for the Twins in 2008 and 2009. He finished with a higher OPS+ than Thome did in both of those years. Kubel is also 28 compared to Thome's 40. So again, who gets the at bats?

It will probably depend on who starts out better. Thome had a dream season in 2010. But he was somewhat pedestrian in 2008 and 2009, which is why the White Sox gave up on him in the first place. That's no knock on Thome. He's a sure-fire Hall of Fame player who has graced the game with his class and his love of the game. It just doesn't seem likely that he will repeat his success from last year. And it's hard to get past how Thome looked in the post season. The Yankees had no trouble with him and made him look easy to get out.

Ron Gardenhire is a loyalty guy. Why else would he stick with a guy like Nick Punto for so long? Kubel is his guy, raised in his system. Kubel will get the job to lose at DH. That's the prediction from this end anyway. There is no way, barring injury, that Thome will get 340 plate appearances this year: 200 seems more likely. The Fan loves Thome and hopes he gets to 600 homers, but this Fan can't see him taking Kubel's job, not with the age difference and Kubel's history. There is no where else for Cuddyer to go because Young has won left and Span is your center fielder. Kubel's defense in right is too suspect. The Fan would take a combo of Kubel and Thome over Cuddyer, but it just doesn't work out defensively.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Outs For the Price of One

The double play has been called the pitcher's best friend and for good reason. It's a pretty good deal when you can get two outs for the price of one pitch. A while back, this site featured a post stating that pitchers should have an adjusted Walks plus Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP) that takes ground balls double plays into account. Pitchers like Mark Buehrle give up a lot of hits which leads to a high WHIP. But if he induces double play grounders in the course of a season, shouldn't there be an adjustment to WHIP to reflect that? The converse is also true. A batter should have his batting average adjusted for the times he grounds into a double play. After all, the batter accounted for two outs with that at bat and not just one. Here are some facts concerning players Grounding Into Double Plays (GIDP).

Fact #1 - There are only two players that have grounded into more than 20 double plays in each of the last three seasons. They are Alex Rios and Billy Butler. Butler lead the world in 2010 with a whopping 32 GIDPs. Rios made the list for all three seasons, but just barely as his totals were 20, 21 and 21. If you adjusted Butler's batting average for the last three years to account for the extra outs, his average would go from .300 to .287. The Fan added 75 plate appearances to account for his extra outs on his 75 double plays over the last three seasons. Adjusting Rios the same way, his BA would go from .273 to .265.

Fact #2 - In addition to Butler and Rios, fourteen other players banged into more than 20 double plays twice in the past three seasons, they are: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Derek Lee, Carlos Lee, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Tejada (who had 61 combined in 2008, 2009!), Ivan Rodriguez, Kurt Suzuki, Jhonny Peralta, Jose Lopez, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Michael Cuddyer and Yunel Escobar. Some of those players hit for good averages and/or good power. But take a guy like Jose Lopez, who has batted in the mid-.250 range and add 45 GIDPs in those two years, and that's a lot of outs.

Fact #3 - Peralta gets a little special recognition. In the two years he combined to hit 46 double plays, he also struck out 260 times. So of the 872 at bats where he did not get a hit, Peralta struck out or grounded into a double play 306 times. That's a lot of stinky outs.

Fact #4 - In the last three seasons, two batters have combined for more than 70 GIDPs and ten more combined for 60 or more. They are: Miguel Tejada (77), Billy Butler (75), Yadier Molina (67), Derek Jeter (64), Yunel Escobar (63). Adrian Gonzalez (62), Albert Pujols (62), Vladimir Guerrero (62), Derek Lee (62), Alex  Rios (62), Magglio Ordonez (60) and Ivan Rodriguez (60).

Fact #5 - Of the list for Fact #4, three are shortstops, two are catchers, four are first basemen, one is a DH and three are outfielders.

Fact #6 - In the last ten years, the top five leaders in GIDP are:
- 1. Tejada with 224 (22.4 a season!)
- 2 Albert Pujols with 203. Now that's a surprise.
- 3 Vladimir Guerrero with 194.
- 4. Paul Konerko with 181
- 5  Michael Young with 172

For those of you who are following along with this thought pattern, that's a total of 1948 outs among the five players or an average of 389.6 outs each over the ten years.

Fact # 7 - In the last five years, the top five in GIDP are: Tejada, Pujols, Young, Yadier Molina and Jeter. Of the five, Michael Young had the most strikeouts with 517. So over the last five years, Young has had over a whole season of at bats that were either strikeouts or GIDPs (622). If you want to look at it another way, the Rangers have paid Young one year in the last five where he either didn't put the ball in play or when he did, accounted for two outs with one swing. Ouch.